How to help
The Chattanooga Community Kitchen is accepting donations of warm weather gear to share with the local homeless population. Coats, hand warmers, socks, underwear, gloves and hats are needed. Items can be dropped off Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 727 E. 11th St.
To contribute to the 2017 Fast Day campaign go to www.community-kitchen.org.
The Chattanooga Community Kitchen has opened its cold weather warming shelter and is working to protect the area's vulnerable homeless population as below freezing temperatures continue to chill the city this week.
Since the cold weather shelter opened on Dec. 6, a week earlier than planned, around 80 people have slept inside the Community Kitchen on mats with blankets each night, said Jens Christensen, chief executive officer at the Community Kitchen.
On any given night there are between 600 and 700 people facing homelessness in Chattanooga, said Chistensen. Some are able to stay with friends or family. Some stay in their cars. But many others are forced to sleep outside or in the homeless camps scattered across the area. In 2015, one homeless man, 64-year-old Douglas King, froze to death not far from the Community Kitchen after falling asleep one very cold night that February. Since then, Christensen said there have been no preventable, exposure-related deaths among the local homeless population.
"It [the cold weather shelter] gives them a place to be safe and inside," said Christensen. "The intent is to save lives."
And as the Community Kitchen works to provide emergency shelter, it is also working to raise money for next year's operating costs.
This year, the financial goal for the nonprofit's annual Fast Day campaign is $750,000, and Christensen said, as of now, they are $250,000 short.
Meeting the goal is important because the Community Kitchen does not receive United Way funding, said Marian Steffner, who is co-chairing the fundraising drive with her husband, Jim.
"They [the Community Kitchen] rely on the Fast Day campaign," said Steffner. "It gives us an opportunity to remind everyone what an essential service this is. It reminds people that there are those who need to be taken care of.
The Community Kitchen opened in 1982 and since then has expanded to cover a city block. Every year staff and volunteers serve more than 170,000 meals while at the same time providing bathrooms, showers, mail and phone services, case management, job training and placement, laundry facilities, night shelters, clothing, household furnishings and hygiene items.
In addition, Christensen said onsite health care, substance abuse treatment and mental health services are also provided.
"There are so many great causes in Chattanooga," added Steffner. "It's really hard for people to figure out where they want to give. We want to remind them of the Community Kitchen."
Contact Joan McClane at email@example.com or 423-757-6601.